How to Help Families with Little Kids and a Newborn or Multiples

Yesterday morning I awoke to one of my favourite pieces of good news: new babies.  Yes, more than one. My friend Lise had twins on the weekend and somehow she managed to keep it a secret from most of the free world.  Twins is sort of a big deal. I’ve been privileged to watch family members embark on this crazy adventure more than once. This week, I wrote a little bit about my time last summer with a family who welcomed twins in addition to their three other children, six and under.

Over the past several months, I’ve talked to a lot of moms and dads about the complete exhaustion, exhilaration and chaos that happens when a baby is brought into a home where there are already a few small kids. But there is a level of crazy that you can’t quite quantify when you add twins(or more) to a household where diapers, tantrums, preschoolers, playtime, naptimes and playdates are already in full swing.

This post is about helping the parents of newborns who already have little kids at home. I’ve been the mom with 3 preschoolers at home bringing home a baby. This is about my experiences. This is also in reaction to things I’ve seen and heard with other parents. There are ways to help and there are ways NOT to help.

1. NEVER assume that parents of newborns have everything figured out. They don’t. Even if they have other kids, every newborn situation is different. And as much as parents want to be prepared, most of the time, they’re not. So be available.

2. Do not offer what you cannot give. I can’t begin to tell you how many people told me “just call- whatever you need, I’m available”  and then when I called, they actually couldn’t help. Maybe about 10% of the time I had people follow through on their promise to “call whenever you need anything.” So don’t do that. Instead, be specific.  If you can bring a meal over, say that. If you can bring a meal over on Tuesday of next week- say EXACTLY that. Leaving it up to new parents to figure out what you mean and when you mean it is too much work for them- honestly. They’re barely coherent and functioning- they need you to be specific.

3. DO NOT CALL or text or message continuously.  I’m so glad there were no cell phones or Facebook or Twitter or even much for email when I had my kids. I could barely keep up with contacting immediate family when my babies were born let alone manage everyone else. Especially when a mom to be goes into the hospital, be very conscious of the fact that she has much more important things to do than message you back. The day that the twins were being born last September, I was awakened at 5 a.m.  I saw Mommy and Daddy off to the hospital and dealt with morning routine, school, playtime and lunch before I heard a peep. People were messaging me non-stop. They wanted to know news. They wanted updates. I had none. Did I want to send a quick text to Daddy? Yes. Did I? Nope.  He was well aware where I was and what was going on. I didn’t hear from him until early afternoon and the babies were already a couple hours old at that point. As much as you may want to know what the latest news is, be respectful and be patient. It’s hard! But do it anyway. Same goes for after the parents come home. If you have been clear about your availability to help, leave it at that for a few days. Sleep is scarce the first couple weeks and visitors, constant calls and texts only add to the exhaustion.

4. Do not just drop in. The excitement of new babies is contagious. It is so hard to stay away when your friends or family have had a baby (or babies!) but you need to give them time to adjust to home. If you MUST drop off a gift or a meal or even groceries, then you need to let them know you’re on your way and that you will not be staying. Drop off the items, give a hug and leave. Do not presume to stay. Do not take off your shoes or coat. Do not expect to be served or entertained. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I’ve seen people drop in, decide to stay indefinitely, have no regard for how tired the parents are, stay through feedings(which are cumbersome, awkward and often lengthy the first while) and stay through naptime. Hint: if the baby(babies) are sleeping, then mommy and daddy should be sleeping too. 

5. If you visit, plan to help.  So let’s say you’ve been invited, you’ve made plans, it’s all good and you’re dropping in on the family.  Do not come to be entertained. Your job is to help. Do the dishes, do some laundry, play with the other kids, help with bathtime/bedtime, make a meal, clean up a meal, take out the trash, take out the recycling, clean out the fridge, sweep, vacuum, wash counters, …..these are ALL things that new parents are often too tired to do, won’t have done for a while or just don’t have time for.

6. Do NOT drop off your used clothing.  This is a big no-no. Once upon a time, we lived in a time when clothes were not as accessible or economical as they are now. Most parents have an abundance of clothes from their previous children. It is rare for parents of newborns to need or even want your leftovers. You may have adorable, well cared for clothes, but if they’re not needed then they become work. Imagine bringing home your two precious babes to a house where you have 2 or 3 other children and someone drops off 2 or 3 or 4 GARBAGE BAGS full of clothes. You would cry. Yes you would. Well, I did. I cried a lot. Not in front of the givers, but afterwards. Bags full of clothes are great if needed and asked for. They are just painfully unwanted when you’re exhausted and have no time or space to deal with them. Ask first and don’t feel offended if the answer is “thanks, but no thanks”. Most parents simply cannot deal with sorting through more clothes than they need.

7. There’s such a thing as a bad gift. If you are going to donate clothes, make sure they’re clean, in good repair and sorted into sizes. There was a time, when we were poor, and we had our first baby where we had maybe 4 sleepers total. And someone in our family gave us a bag of baby clothes and receiving blankets which should have been a blessing. But it was a curse. You can say a lot in what you give. If it really is ‘the thought that counts’ then make sure you’re thinking about how your gift will be received. The bag of clothes we were given was 95% formula stained, ripped,  stretched, too old to be anything but rags. I cried. I needed clothes. But I didn’t need that. It was horrible. And I will tell you that *gifts* like this will actually put a wall up between the giver and the recipient. I was gracious but the relationship was awkward and distant. Make sure you give in such a way to bless and be of help. In the same vein, giving food gifts that require a lot of preparation or fussy care are not helpful. If you make a meal, make it simple, tasty, able to be frozen, placed into disposable containers(or containers that can be kept.). Anytime a family has to chase down the owners of dishes, it makes the gift of food more work.  One more note about food gifts: they are THE BEST but be careful not to put your dietary likes above the recipients’. If you are a vegetarian but the new family is not, consider their tastes.  If you like quinoa and lentils but the new family never eats them, that could make for a bad food gift. Consideration is key.

Someone dropped these off the day before the twins came home from the hospital. Talk about a practical THOUGHTFUL gift!
Someone dropped these off the day before the twins came home from the hospital. Talk about a practical THOUGHTFUL gift!

8. Baby holders aren’t as needed as you might think.  I know a lot of people get excited(me included) when a new baby comes into the world because we all just want to hold it. I’m one of those people who will take the baby and not return it. I will not share. I’m a baby hoarder. I love their smell and their soft little squishy bodies perched in my arms. Give me babies!!   Okay, wait. What was I saying? Right….ummmm…..I was the mom who wanted to hold her own baby. All the time. I loved my babies and they grew too fast. Yes, I was proud to show them off..for like 5 minutes. But really, I wanted to hold my babies more than anyone else. Moms get exhausted. And sometimes they need a break…but just little breaks. If a mom has other kids and she wants to spend time with them, maybe a baby holder is necessary. With twins or multiples, there may be more times needed in soothing one while the other is fed but early on, that is not as likely to happen. Be very aware that some moms like their babies in a crib during naptime to get them into a routine. Holding a baby for an hour or two between feedings is rarely helpful to a new mom. Sorry baby huggers! I feel your pain! Just short holding sessions, mmm ‘k? 🙂

9. Do NOT bring your sick or wild or hyper or needy children for a visit.  This is a tough one. If you’re a mom and a friend of the new mom, it is very natural to want to bring your kids over to see the new baby(ies). But sometimes more kids is just too much. Germs, tantrums, unexpected attitudes can all make for a louder, frustrating visit.  Usually, siblings of a new baby are wanting more attention and will be struggling without the addition of extra kids wanting to play with their toys. Be sensitive to the situation. And under no circumstance should sick, snotty, feverish, kids or adults come into a home where there is a new baby. Ever.

10. Helping with older kids should be done as needed in their own home. The upheaval of having mommy gone for a few days or weeks and seeing people come and go can be very difficult on little kids. If you want to help care for the siblings of newborns, as much as possible do it in their own home. Consistency is so important for little kids. Do not offer to take the kids to your home if you cannot pick them up and drop them off. Asking new parents to arrange to drop off their kids at your house is not very convenient. Of course there are exceptions but anytime you can make life easier on the new exhausted, overwhelmed parents is the preferred method.

11. Twins(multiples) and Bedrest: Sometimes moving in is the best way to help. I have fibromyalgia, I’m in my forties and I am NOT a morning person. I told all these things to our family members before coming to live with them for 5 weeks. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t help. I promised the kids would be fed and cared for. I didn’t promise a spotless house or gourmet meals. We managed and everyone survived! I will say that it helped that my family was not in the same city. I could dedicate all of my time to the little ones and the care of the home without distraction. It ended up being MORE relaxing than being home with my four teenagers. Go figure!  The key is this: stuff happens and if mama or daddy need help NOW, you’re there. Also, this definitely works best when you have a good relationship with both parents. Their rules, their house, their routine…be flexible and roll with it.

12. Do not place an expiry on your availability.  It’s often easy to assume that parents of newborns only need help the first month. But in reality, it gets harder over the course of the first couple years. When newborns sleep mostly and only wake for feedings, new parents need help watching their other kids so they can sleep. As soon as the baby(ies) are waking more, the need for help falls over into managing and watching all of the kids. If babies are born prematurely, their newborn phase lasts longer. This can be cute to those of us on the outside looking in, but for a new mom who’s nursing or waking multiple times in the night, this is just prolonging her exhausted phase. By the time babies reach 3 or 4 months, there may be even more need for help to come in daily to do routine household chores and care for older children as well as the babies. Rotating with friends and neighbours is a great way to cover a family over the course of a week. Once babies are nearing a year……walking, talking, solid foods plus school and schedules for older siblings can render a mom almost zombie-like. Swoop in and give her a break whenever you can. It may be only a short season of life but for her in that moment it feels never ending.

13. Be the friend who knows just what Mom needs.  Sometimes we have to be creative and spontaneous. We also need to put ourselves into the shoes of an overwhelmed, overtired mom of multiple small children. If you are out and buying coffee for yourself, grab a 2nd cup…drive to her house, knock(gently), hand her the java, give her a  hug and drive away. You don’t need to stay long or do a lot to let her know that you’re thinking of her and have her back. Remember what I said about not overstaying your welcome? Ya well, don’t, but dropping in with a saving cup of caffeine, lunch for the kiddos or a 30 minute stop so she can shower is worth its weight in gold. Trust me.

14. Ask. When all else fails, ask what is needed. Do they need someone to pick up kids from the bus stop? Do they need a sitter for an evening? Do they need someone to drive to and from the hospital while babies are in the NICU? Do they need gas cards or money for hospital parking passes? It’s amazing how all of these things add up. If the new parents are too overwhelmed to know what is needed in that moment, tell them to text or call if they think of something and then let them know you’ll check back in a couple of days. And then do.

The point in all of this is to be thoughtful, empathetic and available.  It’s very easy to go buy cutsie little outfits when a baby is born but what parents of newborns really need is physical, tangible, practical help. 

What are some of your good and bad experiences when you had your babies? Were there some gifts/givers who nailed it? Were there some people who tried to help but maybe made things worse? I’m guilty of calling too often, holding the babies too long, and dropping off bag fulls of unwanted clothes. I’m preaching to myself in all of this too!

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Upcycling ~ Vince Camuto style

Hey Mamas! I am here to dish about some great deals I’ve found lately at some of my new favorite places to “upcycle”. I like to think of myself as thrifty, though I’m sure my husband would laugh out loud at that one!

Ok, so I’m not a coupon-cutter, and I won’t drive all the way across town just to buy cheaper gas, but I do like to re-use stuff that is in perfectly good shape, but just needs a new home. Gosh, don’t we all like to find a great deal? I’m not saying you won’t see me at the mall browsing through my favorite stores, but I also love to check out consignment stores, used furniture places, antique barns and the like.

I really became interested in consigning clothing when I worked in the television industry. We were lucky enough back then to receive an allowance to help purchase on-air clothing, but it was never really enough. Plus, I always thought it was in bad taste to wear the same outfits over and over again every week. So…I would sell my “gently used” clothes, mainly blazers, and use the money to buy new ones. Often, I would find great stuff at the consignment store in Calgary’s Willow Park, and I always thought it would be funny if the previous owner called up the station one day to say that they saw their jacket on-air! Thankfully, that never happened.

The other day I checked out a new store that opened just across from the Woodlands; it’s called Style Encore – love the name! It’s not a traditional consignment store, since they buy your stuff right there while you wait. It’s huge!! Rows and rows of clothing, all of it color-blocked so it makes it easier to find that little black dress or red blouse for the Christmas party. There are also tons of shoes; I don’t like to wear other people’s shoes, but that’s just a personal preference.

I hit it big in the handbag section. I have been wanting a quality and classic-looking brown leather bag for fall. I checked some out at Nordstrom’s the other day and just can’t bring myself to pay $500 for a purse. At Style Encore, I found a Vince Camuto brown leather bag for $45!!

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It’s in great condition, has a beautiful clean interior, lots of pockets and is the shape I wanted. I did have to take it home and wipe down the leather to make it sparkle 😉 Seriously, this bag brand new would have cost between $250-$300! I am still giddy about it. The “teen” version of Style Encore is called Plato’s Closet,  located just next door.

Children’s clothing is another huge consignment or re-sell market. Once Upon A Child and Kid to Kid are two well known stores around here. As the kids grow older, and their sense of style changes, I often find myself taking loads of clothes to sell at the consignment store. I made $17 on the last go around; not a lot, but it all goes into “Mommy’s secret stash” envelope. It adds up after a while.

These stores allow you to earn more money for your stuff if you choose to take it as store credit, and Style Encore even had a return policy.

I think furniture and home accessories may be one of the very BEST things to upcycle because there’s no weirdness about wearing other people’s stuff. Somehow, someone else’s table or picture on the wall seems a little less personal, you know what I mean? There was a great little used furniture place not far from my home that I checked out regularly.

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I found some great stuff there like this two-tone wood side table and one of the mirrors above.

Looking at the wall, can you tell which one came from the used furniture store and cost a third of the price of the one from Pottery Barn?? It’s the white rectangular one (the brown circular one underneath is from PB). Woodlands Online is a great site for buying and selling used furniture and accessories, among other things. Other stores to check out are Still Goode Consignments in Spring and just down the road is Estate Buyouts, Resale and More.

If you are a DIY type of person, you can really work some magic on some older furniture pieces, that may have a few nicks and scratches. My friend Juanita over at Prairie Vintage Revival is amazing at this!! I also love to check out the Thrifty Decor Chick blog, to read about Sarah’s latest cool project – she is super handy with a can of spray paint!

What’s really great is that my girlfriends also enjoy the thrill of the hunt. We had such fun a few weeks ago on a girls’ trip where we went “antiquing” up in Round Top, TX. We didn’t really end up buying that much (antiques can be pricey!) but we did come home with a few very unique pieces. 

A few things to remember about consigning or re-selling clothing, toys and furniture:

  • you won’t get rich selling your stuff, but it’s better at their store, than cluttering up your closet
  • if you are selling, your stuff should be in good condition, clean with all zippers and buttons (dry-cleaned if necessary)
  • don’t try to sell toys with lead or recalled items; that’s just not cool.
  • be clear about how you will get paid – cash on the spot, or by check in the mail. As I have learned from experience, if you receive checks as payment cash them right away. Sometimes these stores may close on a whim, and you’re hooped!
  • be sure to tell them if you want to pick up or donate your items that didn’t sell.
  • shop often because merchandise turns over quickly and watch for markdowns
  • second-hand stores in nicer, more affluent areas (hello Woodlands and surrounding area!) tend to have better stuff

Have fun shopping! Please comment below about some of your great “finds” and let us know where some of the best deals are in your city or town.

Are your teens suffering from the FOMO Syndrome, the quest for “likes” and other social media pitfalls?

Wow, it has been a long time since I last blogged. My apologies, but I felt compelled to write after attending an informative and enlightening book group discussion sponsored by my daughter’s school.

I think it’s great that our school takes the time to organize Parent Coffees and Book Group Discussions at Barnes and Noble (with a Starbucks, of course!) I love that our school cares about its students AND its parents.

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The book up for discussion was It’s Complicated…the social lives of networked teens by Danah Boyd. I’ve got to be honest…I didn’t read the book (bow head in shame) so I really can’t critique it. I heard it is research-based, and not really written by or for parents. I was expecting to learn from the book, but instead learned from the other women in the room.

About 25 moms showed up – all of us worried that our kids are addicted to social media, that they are missing out on life experiences and relationships because they’re always on their phones. And mostly, as parents of freshman through to seniors, we’re worried they are going to royally screw up on social media, and that it could hurt their chances for success in the future. (We’ll get to the beer and bikini pictures later).

The general consensus among moms was that girls are more involved in social media than boys but, don’t be fooled, those boys are still “on-line” just as much. Instead, they are spending their time gaming on X-box and Minecraft with opponents across the country  or even around the world.

Our teens are using social media to socialize…the same way we used to hang out at the local convenience store, mall or roller rink (am I dating myself?) Their phones ARE their playgrounds. And, whose fault is that? As parents, we may be contributing to the problem. With our teens so busy and over-scheduled, who has time to go to the park and just hang out anymore? One mom suggested that if a group of 10-15 teens did try to hang out at the mall on a Friday night, they’d probably be questioned by security!! Perhaps, in our quest to raise great children, all the tutoring and private lessons are taking away from time to socialize in person.

We also agreed our teens don’t seem to understand the permanence of what they do on-line. Once you say something mean or nasty, it doesn’t go away…even if you’ve deleted it. It can always be found. The picture of you at the party, with the bottle of beer in the background, has now hurt your reputation. Sure, maybe you weren’t drinking it, and no you didn’t post the picture, but your friend tagged you in it, so now everybody can see it’s you! It may be wrong, but your kid may very well be judged or miss out on an opportunity, because of how they’ve appeared in a photo. Ditto for bikini shots – some moms just thought it was totally inappropriate for their daughters to be posting pictures of themselves in bikinis on their profiles.

As part of the College admissions process, one mom said her teen was asked for passwords to his Facebook and Instagram accounts. Really? But I don’t believe they really even need passwords. If your teen’s privacy settings are not secure, then complete strangers can still see some of their photos, posts, groups they like, etc. We also heard that some admissions personnel are trying to “friend” potential college students to get a look at their profiles. Right or wrong, its seems your teen’s Facebook or Instagram account may now be considered part of their resume!

Another theme that emerged is the FOMO syndrome – The Fear Of Missing Out . Why do our kids seem to think that what everybody else is doing is so much better, so much more exciting and somehow more valuable than what they are doing? Why do they think their lives are so boring? My daughter sees Instagram pictures of her friend’s trip to Paris, and now suddenly we must go to Paris too? Puh-lease!!

Like Instagram, apps such as Snap Chat are based on pictures and limited text. The idea that they disappear after 24 hours is false, because anyone can screen shot your Snap Chat and off it goes by text, email or another social media site onto the internet. Case in point: the 24-year-old Texas high school teacher and cheerleading coach who got fired and is now charged after snap chatting a nude picture of herself to a male student, which he then distributed to his friends.

Everyone in attendance agreed the anonymous types of sites, like Yik Yak and ASK FM, are bad news. If you can’t attach your name to it, then is it really worth the question or comment in the first place?

I’m personally annoyed by the obsession with “Likes”. Apparently, a picture isn’t worth posting unless it gets a certain amount of “likes”. Seeing your daughter’s self-confidence plummet because her picture didn’t get as many likes as she expected, is really heart-breaking. I worry that living their lives for “selfies” and “likes” often means they aren’t present in the moment, and may be missing out on real human connection or the beauty of where they are at that moment. It’s also just really silly to always be seeking the approval of others.

The good news about the book group discussion is that I wasn’t surprised or shocked by another new social media tool that I hadn’t heard of. I try hard to stay current with my kids (I still haven’t mastered Snap Chat). But I did learn about the Tinder match-making app the other day… which uses your Facebook profile and GPS technology to allow you to “hook up” with someone in your geographic radius. Thankfully, I believe we are still far away from tinkering with Tinder.

It was also just really good to hear from other people with the same concerns. No one has the right answer; but at least we’re talking. It takes a village, right?

I hope all of this doesn’t sound too negative…there are some really good things about they way our kids use social media. One mom, worried about her son who is new to our school, finds solace in the fact that he is still able to carry on a year-long 3-continent Minecraft game with his best friends. She is puzzled that since re-locating from another country, he is not mourning the loss of the friendships as you’d expect, but is instead using social media to keep the friendships going. Others thought that social media allowed teens to build stronger, more intimate friendships. Saying things over text removes the “awkward” factor for some teens.

Our kids are going to mess up…we know that. It’s all part of growing up. But our kids are doing it so publicly these days. Just think about all of the things you did when you were young. Now imagine, if someone had taken pictures of you and blasted it all over the internet. Scary, huh?  It really all comes down to common sense and communication. We need to sit down with our teens AND tweens and talk about it, because it isn’t going away. With one daughter in high school and another just about to get her first phone, there is no time like the present.

 

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice {And What I Will Teach Our Girls}

As I was marching around in the bushy area of our backyard this weekend, full of thistles and smelling like campfire, I got to thinking about womanhood.  I got to thinking about the things I like about being female.  The things my mom taught me.  The things I want to teach our daughters.  The experiences I’d like them to have, the challenges I’d like them to overcome, the mistakes I’ve made that hope they don’t.  The things I want them to learn.

I am probably failing miserably at teaching some of these things…but they are goals.  They are something to strive for.  This is little more than a digital-mental list of things I think are important for our growing beauties.

  • Teach her compassion and empathy {by example}
  • Teach her about nature {and how to take care of it}
  • Teach her that it’s cool to be smart  {Even if she doesn’t believe you}
  • Tell her she’s beautiful {while she’s in her jammies}
  • Teach her about life…and death  {Her goldfish didn’t run away}
  • Teach her to be strong in her morals and beliefs {no matter what “they” say}
  • Teach her to build a fire, change a flat and make a speech
  • Show her how to dress up {Think class, not cleavage}
  • Teach her to pray and love and put others first
  • Teach her that she is complete {without her friends or boyfriend or peers}
  • Show her the world {even if it’s via YouTube}
  • Teach the importance of family {blood-related or not}
  • Let her exercise her independence {regardless of how it pains you}
  • Teach her to be a friend {especially to the one who needs a friend most}
  • Encourage her questions {and strive to answer them all}
  • Teach her about bugs and plants and animals {Even if you don’t like them}
  • Show her what hard work looks like {and how to get and keep a job}
  • Teach her about the awkward & uncomfortable {before someone else does}
  • Value her opinions {And teach her to value those of others}
  • Teach her to manage her money {and not let it manager her}
  • Let her experience the joy of true giving
  • Teach her tolerance and forgiveness
  • Teach her to have adventures {everywhere she goes}
  • Let her cry when she needs to {and let her see you cry too}
  • Teach her to eat healthfully {but not obsessively}
  • Let her be a princess {and a pirate and a giraffe}
  • Make her feel loved {over and over and over}
  • Show her how it feels to earn something {and that the world owes her nothing}
  • Teach her to ride a bike and build a resume and paint her toenails
  • Show her what initiative looks like
  • Encourage her to think outside the box
  • Help her find a love for books {or blogs or anything word-related}
  • Let her get dirty and muddy and crazy and fun
  • Teach her about her heritage {and to be proud of her roots}
  • Teach her that there’s so much more to life than high school {even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time}
  • Teach her manners and respect {for herself, her body and everyone around her}

There is more.  So much more.  But I’ll leave it with you….what would you add?  What do you think is important for a girl to know?
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Making our children STAAR students

Ok, just have to vent today about the STAAR tests being taken this week by students in Texas.

No, no, it’s not just “any other” test. The STAAR test is a phenomenon down in these parts.  And from what I can tell, not even Texans like it!!

It stands for the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness.  And it would be similar (though much harder, in my opinion) to the PAT (Provincial Achievement Tests) given to students in Alberta and elsewhere in Canada. A key difference here though, is that it is a pass or fail test, which means…if your child doesn’t pass the STAAR, they do not pass the grade.

The pressure being heaped upon our kids to perform is like something I’ve never seen before.

The school is a closed campus this week  – no visitors, no birthday treats, no outdoor recess for any grade. Testing is in progress. The children are also being asked to wear brain stimulating colors  – purple for Reading, blue for Math and green for Science. I’m serious.

We, as parents, as being persuaded to get up extra early (at my house anyway) and make a protein-packed breakfast…bacon and eggs anyone??  Yesterday, they told us to pack a “note of encouragement” in our kids’ lunch boxes! And this one prompted me to write this blog – I got a teacher text (which I normally enjoy) that said “May the Scores Be With You!” Ha, ha…Star Wars, I get it.

But that’s what it’s all about – the scores. I really like my children’s school and teachers, I have a lot of respect for them. But when it comes to STAAR testing, I get annoyed. Isn’t this test supposed to be a reflection of what they’ve learned throughout the year. If the teacher is doing her job, and my child is doing classwork, homework and studying all year long…won’t she do just fine?

I guess not! I did some research which found that educators have determined the STAAR tests are written in a language beyond the child’s grade level. So, even though they may understand the subject matter, they may not understand the question because of the language used. How sad.

I’m not fully up to speed on how the STAAR results and school funding are connected, but clearly there is a link. Each school is striving for the best test scores and the teachers too, as I’ve heard there are hirings and firings based on STAAR class results.

My daughter came home the other day and told me that she thinks she has Test Anxiety. Really, I ask, surprised of where she heard that term??  Then, she hands me a sheet the teacher gave out listing all the symptoms and ways to avoid test anxiety.  She did not sleep well last night –  she was up at least twice, upset that she could not fall asleep,  despite the fact her teacher told her she MUST get a good night’s rest.

Wow…I just don’t get it. I sent her out the door this morning  with a kiss, a hug, and said good luck because to me…the STAAR is just any other test.

Woodlands friends, I would love for you to share your knowledge and experience with STAAR testing. 

What Every Mother Needs to Know and Hear~I Struggle Too.

I didn’t live in the land of Facebook or e-mail when my kids were little. We didn’t even have a computer or internet for many of those early years. Motherhood was a solitary journey and I lived for the days a friend would call me up to ask how I was doing.

I also thrived on Mom’s Morning out at church or when one of us had an energetic boost and could invite the others over for playtime and coffee. These were the sanity breaks that my mind and soul craved. Not because I was so lonely(maybe I was a little) but more so for the comradeship of knowing that I was not alone in my struggles.   I loved walking into my friend’s house and seeing the crumbs on her floor , the laundry piled high, bedroom doors closed so the mess behind them wasn’t initially visible.  I wanted to see that her fridge was a mess and her beds weren’t made. I needed to know that I wasn’t the only one.  It gave me a chance to catch my breath and say, “Hey, it’s okay~you’re not the only one.”

For many years having people over was a painful process. I felt like everything needed to be in it’s place and perfectly clean. I would wash mirrors, toilets, windows, floors, clean out the fridge, rearrange the furniture, hide away mounds of laundry under blankets and in closets and pretend to look pulled together. It was exhausting. And rarely did that happen without some yelling and crying. Mostly from me. The pressure to have it all together is immense. Especially from the generation before us.  Let’s face it, our mothers and fathers came from a time when “cleanliness is next to Godliness”( which incidentally is NOT in the Bible).  Any sign that you are a messy person was the equivalent of being spiritually undisciplined and unacceptable.  I succumbed to this pressure for many years and tortured my family in the process.

That was then.

I have learned after 21 years of marriage that the people with the perfectly clean houses fall into a couple of categories:

– either both parents work all week and the kids are at school/daycare all week so no one is there to LIVE IN the house.

-At least one parent is completely anal about cleanliness and is a perfectionist beyond my realm of knowledge

or – they don’t have half the junk we do and they live in a house where everything has a home so it’s very easy to keep clean.

 

I am none of these. We have moved a lot, we have rented in places where closets and cupboards were minimal at best.  I am not a disciplined housekeeper and perhaps that’s due to my overall physical strength and well-being most of the time.  And we tend to have the cheaper variety of department store furniture, shelving, storage which is barely sufficient to corral and organize everyone’s stuff.

It doesn’t really matter why, it just matters that it is.  I’m not the crazy, clean housewife. I would rather sit down with my husband after supper than do dishes.  I would rather sleep in on Saturday occasionally than jump on the laundry.  I would rather go visit a friend than wash floors.  There’s always something else I’d rather be doing.

But it is still a struggle and I do wish that I was THAT woman over there who always has the perfectly clean house,  with the perfectly organized kitchen and the perfectly perfect kids.   Scratch that.  I don’t want that.  I don’t want to be squeaky clean. I want to be real.

We’re not all cut out to be perfectly perfect housewives with high heels on , a pressed apron on our hips and dinner on the table at 5:35 pm exactly.  Some of us are the ones with no apron on, flour on our hips, splatters on our shirt, and cookies in the oven at 5:45 pm just starting to think about what we can scrounge together for supper.

Yesterday I tackled a mountain of laundry. Laundry is the bane of my existence. It always has been. When the kids were little my mom would come to visit and do laundry for 4 days straight. She rocks the laundry room. I just can’t. I get overwhelmed on load 3.  Yes my kids do their own laundry but there’s always seasonal, household and SOCKS that fall through the cracks and accumulate. Yesterday’s pile had a ridiculous amount of mismatched socks of every size and colour. There was also mitts and scarves in abundance from our all-too-long winter. And then blankets and sheets from sleepovers and towels from 3 bathrooms and 6 people. We just suck at getting it done all the time.  And so, here I was , faced with a room where the floor had not been seen in several months. It was brutal.   But I did it. I started in the morning, sorted, folded, moved out, sorted, washed, dried, folded, sorted….it’s a lot of work when kids are growing out of stuff faster than you can wash a load.

I’m terrible at laundry. And if I lied to you and told you that my kids are all well trained and have this craft down to a science you might think I’m a great teacher. But I’m not.  Half of them are really good and half of them are like me. 🙂  It’s okay, you know.  It’s okay that we’re not perfect.  Because I suspect that someone reading this right now struggles with laundry too. Or maybe dishes. Or maybe your floors get washed once a season or once a year. Or maybe you only vacuum when company comes.  It’s totally okay. I’m kind of over the shame and guilt that some throw on us because we’re not all Susie-Homemaker baking bread, cleaning out dust bunnies and polishing floors on a daily basis.  Shame and guilt have no place in conversations with other moms.  I only have solidarity and support.  If I can tackle 15 loads of laundry in one day, anyone can.  But if you can only do one load, sister, I am SO there with you.

The more we admit that we struggle, the more comfortable we make it for someone else to admit they’re not perfect either.  The lady who gets all her laundry done every day might be terrible at baking. Her poor , poor children never get a home made cookie~ Ever.  See?  No one is perfect at it all.

 

This is after I cleaned out the 10 loads that needed to be folded~not even kidding.
This is after I cleaned out the 10 loads that needed to be folded~not even kidding.
A portion of the pile before me to fold. *sigh*
A portion of the pile before me to fold. *sigh*

 

 

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Progress!

 

Oh and one more tip: if your mother, or mother-in-law or friend, or aunt, or nosy neighbour, or stranger on the sidewalk offers to come and do your laundry for you…..TAKE THE DEAL!!! 🙂

We Don’t Live in Walnut Grove Anymore {The Social Media Generation}

If I talk to you about social media, what do you instantly think of? Facebook? Twitter?

I’m guessing most of you think of Facebook exclusively when it comes to your kids. But you would be wrong. In fact, a lot of kids are leaving Facebook and checking out SnapChat and in rapidly increasing numbers, Instagram.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

I would like you to read this article from Hollee Actman Becker. She has absolutely nailed it when it comes to Instagram and our kids- especially tweens and teens.  Do You Think You’re Smarter than Your Fifth Grader? 

 

Did you read it?? Go. Now. Read it. The rest of this isn’t going to make sense unless you read it and I’m not dictating it for you. Go. 

 

Okay, so, now that you’re panic-stricken and mortified, let’s talk about this.

 

Unless you plan on moving to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee or the back woods of the Boreal Forest in Northern Saskatchewan, social media is not going away and it’s now a part of your life, like it or not.  Sure, you can ban your kids from ever touching a computer or cell phone. You can take away their iTouch and their iPads.  You can turn off the wi-fi in your house at 8 pm  and you can hold their hand through life.  OR you could talk to them and teach them about the proper use of social media.

Last week I got an iPhone after much prodding and peer pressure from my 18 year old son. Oh , he’s quite the salesman I tell ya. What got me convinced is the inter-connectivity between my two oldest who have iPhones, my husband and his iPad(he has since upgraded to an iPhone too) and my two younger daughters who each have an iTouch. If you’re not familiar, an iTouch is a glorified iPod which you might think is just for listening to music and watching videos but it actually has all the capabilities of an iPhone without being a phone. So anywhere there is a wifi connection, the holder of an iTouch is able to be on the internet, add apps like any iPhone user would and it also has a camera/video camera.  Very cool but for kids, definitely needs monitoring.   Now, I know my girls have been using Instagram for the past few months. Many of my friends also share  their instagram photos on Facebook and Twitter and I have to admit, I was a little sad when I learned that you have to have an Apple product to use that particular app. I have looked at my girls’ photos and I realized a couple of months ago that there is a lot more going on on Instagram than what I had previously thought. I too, thought it was simply a photo sharing application but with the ability to follow and comment, I realized it really is just another social media outlet.

Our rules on Facebook are as follows:

  • If you’re going to be on Facebook, you must have your parents as friends or you can’t have an account. (They have all figured out that they can customize statuses and posts to exclude us because we were “so annoying” commenting on things.)
  • At any time I can look at their friend list and suggest/demand deletion. We have had to do this a few times particularly with some “friends” who they don’t know well or who have potty-mouths and regularly post offensive comments, statuses or links.
  • At any time I can go into their inbox to see who they’re chatting with and what they’re chatting about.  I did this a lot in the early days and the threat of it now has kept everyone behaving(I think).  I do believe our teens need a certain level of anonymity and privacy. I had diaries and there were some things I wanted to vent about that I would never want my mom to hear or read. Growing up is a working through of emotions and thoughts and it’s okay for our kids to have someplace to do that. But I caution my girls that everything they type can be cut, pasted, shared, taken out of context for all the world to see so tread carefully.
  • Absolutely no bashing friends, acquaintances, family or teachers on Facebook or any other social media. I will not put up with cyber-bullying  or openly slandering another person.
  • Facebook is a privilege, not a right. At any moment it can be gone. And we have suspended accounts for several months at a time. Parents, be parents. Consequences for inappropriate behaviour must be followed through.
  • Anyone who you “friend” on Facebook must be someone you know personally, have an in-person relationship with and who is someone that you would not hesitate to have over in our home for dinner or sitting in our living room with the whole family.  If any one of these criteria does not line up then you cannot be friends on Facebook.  Facebook is an extension of our home and your life. It is a virtual living room. Therefore, we regularly check friend lists and purge as necessary. If someone is a FB stalker(they’re on but you never hear from them) then they’re gone.  If someone takes things you post and shares them with others not on your friend list or not on FB, they’re gone.  If someone makes any one of your friends feel uncomfortable or is chatting privately with you about what someone else said or posted, they’re gone.

This is not an exclusive rule list and it’s always changing. Social media has changed a ton in the six years that I have been on. An open dialogue is essential with your kids. Use it as a teaching tool. Someday your kids will be on their own and they need to have a good foundation for what is acceptable on the internet and what is not.  If you don’t teach them, they’ll learn on their own or from someone else. This is why, for the life of me, I cannot understand some parents who are NOT on Facebook but allow their children to be. You cannot monitor that which you do not see. And you cannot see that which you do not understand or where you are not present. Be present in your child’s life~everywhere.

 

So, back to Instagram. We had an episode a month ago. Potentially a scary episode. My youngest(who will be 13 next week) was having problems and I knew that but she wasn’t sharing much. I will not give all the details but I received a phone call from her friend’s mom on a Saturday morning. She was worried about my daughter because she read an inbox message from her, to her daughter. The word suicide came up. I was alarmed but I was more curious. I took my daughter out on a shopping trip and lunch. We talked about school and friends and all kinds of things. She didn’t give me any indication of a problem and her marks have been good. I had to tell her about the call and she immediately burst into tears. Instagram. Instagram had made her feel awkward and uncomfortable and vulnerable. Even though she didn’t say those words, that’s what it was.  A boy at youth group had liked a photo of her on instagram and her friends had blown it up into a big deal. Why? Because when you “like” something on Instagram it pops up as a heart. So here was her picture with a heart and this boy’s name.  It’s one of those moments in grade 7 when you are SO EMBARRASSED you just want to die.  You know what I mean , moms? You want to die. And that’s what this innocent little  inbox message had said.

When I was in grade 7 and I liked a boy, I didn’t tell anyone. It was my secret with myself. I told my daughter that as much as she loves her friends and they love her, teasing will always happen to the extent where you want to crawl into a hole and never come out. That’s why diaries are great. And that’s why, when I was in grade 7, I could run home, close the bedroom door, cry into my pillow and stress for a day and a night and by the next morning the girls were teasing someone else at school and the boys were just being boys.

Here’s the thing parents, we don’t live in Walnut Grove anymore(did you have to Google that to figure out what I meant?).  Nelly is still on the playground, but she’s carrying an iPhone and she’s using everything your little Laura says and does against her. She’s video taping and photographing and texting.  Albert and Willie have phones now too.  And they don’t mean any harm but they get caught up in the moment.  So what are you going to tell your Laura, your Mary, your Carrie?  What do you do? Do you pack them up in the wagon? Do you tell Pa to get his shotgun and show those kids who’s boss?

Nellie Olson still exists ~she just has an iPhone now.

No.  We live in 2013 and computers and cell phones and social media are a part of our lives. We have to teach our kids to protect themselves. We have to show them how to be friends but how to still keep their private life private. We need to be their safe place and their fountain of knowledge. But we can’t do that if we don’t know what they’re talking about. We can’t help them if we don’t even understand what “tbh” and “lms” mean. It’s time to get with the program.  Be a parent and be there for our kids.

Needless to say, we ‘ve adjusted privacy settings on Instagram for the girls. And now that I’m on, I can see what’s being posted and what’s being said. 95% of it is innocent. But the conversation is an open and evolving one. I’m not going to be the mom who says, “I didn’t know” .